Adam Rice

My life and the world around me

Category: personal (page 3 of 16)

Pros and Converse

'Red Chucks' by Purploony on Flickr

Growing older has its pros and cons. Most of the pros are mental, most of the cons are physical.

When I was a little kid, I desperately wanted a pair of “high-tops” (I didn’t know what else to call them). When I was in second grade, my parents indulged me, but only once. I wore those out quickly enough, and didn’t get another pair.

Until I went to college and was living on my own (and, for better or worse, buying my own clothes). Chuck Taylors were the only shoes I wore throughout my college career, and for a long time after.

As I got older, I found that my feet had less and less tolerance for the complete lack of cushioning and support in Chuck Taylors. It wasn’t that the shoes had changed (although aficionados will always say “they don’t make ’em like they used to”), it was just one of the cons of getting older. I visited New York City in 2001 and did a prodigious amount of walking in Chucks. After a couple of days, I damn near felt crippled. When I got back to Austin, I broke down and bought a pair of “cross-trainers,” and have worn some variety or another ever since.

But I miss wearing Chuck Taylors. I still have a few pair, and trot them out for parties when I know I won’t be doing a lot of walking. I miss the simplicity and utilitarianism, the personality and playfulness. If they came out with a line of Chucks with modern soles, I would be all over them.

True fans would complain they weren’t real Chucks. Whatever. It’s a compromise my feet would gladly make. Converse no longer exists as an independent entity anyhow. It’s owned by Nike, which treats Chuck Taylors as a fashion brand and sells them for a premium.

Smell, Memory

Every year, Gwen makes cookies for a class of first-graders who come trick-or-treating at her office. A couple of nights ago, she made two batches of butter cookies, each using a different recipe—one that her mom used throughout her childhood, and another that she found online . She stored them in tupperware until last night, when we decorated them. I opened the box containing the ones made using the online recipe (which is butterier, and which I liked better) and the escaping aroma instantly transported back to the time when I was in first grade myself, probably the last time I had a Salerno butter cookie. I hadn’t even thought of Salernos in decades, but I instantly remembered the daisy shape, the hole in the middle that I could stick my finger through, the smell, and the taste. We all know that the sense of smell is the sense that evokes memories most strongly, and this was a potent example. It was only that batch that did it for me though—not the other one.

Unsurprisingly, Gwen preferred her mom’s recipe. Because that’s tied to her memories.

Ride more bikes

In the severe hailstorm that hit Austin back in May, our car took a beating—some of the dings were so sharp that the paint cracked at the point of impact. When I took it in to get a repair estimate, they told me they were going to have to replace the hood and roof. In short, major repairs.

We finally got around to taking the car in to get the repairs done, and as of today, have been without a car for three weeks. The experience has been instructive.

I’ve lived in Austin without a car before. That was as a renter, and it definitely involved compromises. It would be much more difficult to live here as a homeowner without a car.

I’ve only had to bum a ride once during these three weeks. And there are certainly a few car-based errands that we’ve deferred. But for the most part, we’ve managed pretty handily, and more importantly, it’s been a reminder that most of the short 1/2/3 mile errands we run can be accomplished just as well by bike.

It’s a little embarrassing that we got out of the habit of using our bikes for errands in the first place. We didn’t quit riding them entirely, but we didn’t ride them nearly as much as we might have. It’s hard to put a finger on why this is. Too lazy to ride? Perhaps in part. Another dumb reason might be our garage door. When we moved into this house, the garage (where we store the bikes) could only be locked or unlocked from inside. So to get the bike out I’d go into the garage, open the door, pull the bike off the wall, put it outside, come back in, lock the garage, go through the house, go out the front door, and lock that. This is not a huge inconvenience in the grand scheme of things, but it adds just enough friction to the process that we’re more often inclined to say “fuck it” and take the car. We had the garage door fixed a few months back, so we don’t have that trivial hurdle to overcome. And now we’ve been booted out of our bad habits by circumstances. I’m optimistic we won’t fall back into them.

Squeaker

I buried Squeaker today.

When people ask me how she came into my life, I would say “she came with the house.” It sounds glib, but it’s true.

When Jenny and I bought the house on Avenue G at the beginning of 1997, Squeaker was already living there as a street cat. She had been looked after by the previous occupants. When we showed up, she initially kept her distance (hanging out at a neighbor’s place instead), but after a few months, she warmed up to us. When the first freeze of the winter came at the end of ’97, Jenny and I agreed to let Squeaker spend the night indoors, just for that one night. Apart from a couple of forays into the back yard, she never went outdoors again.

Squeaker was already an adult when we took her in—our best estimate is that she was born in 1990. She was compact, stout, and stiff-legged, never jumping but frequently clambering up onto whatever surface she wanted to occupy. She enjoyed surprisingly forceful head-butts, and never played with toys when anyone was watching.

A lot happened to me over the intervening years—one marriage ended, another begun. I broke my pelvis. I sold the house on Avenue G and bought the one I live in now with Gwen. Squeaker was with me through all of that.

She was not unmarked by time. In 2004, she developed a growth on one foot that ultimately required two toes to be amputated. That growth re-appeared on her foot, but never obviously went beyond that.

Over the past few months, her stiffness of leg turned into painful arthritis. She developed hyperthyroidism, meaning her pulse was always racing, she was constantly hungry, and losing weight. I put her on a painkiller for the arthritis. She still seemed to be generally happy, but I realized she was in the endgame.

Over just the past few days, she declined precipitously. She lost her appetite and even had trouble drinking water. Her meow, which had always been stentorian and scratchy, became pathetic and weak. She smelled awful. It was time. I had the vet make a housecall to euthanize her. If anything, I should have done it a few days earlier. Her last day was peaceful.

Gwen and I went through this about a year and a half ago with the cat she’d had for even longer, Oscar. It doesn’t get easier with practice.

Flipside fragment

I’m not sure I can sit down and squeeze everything I might want to say about Flipside into a single blog post—or that I even want to commit all those thoughts to print. I may wind up dribbling out a few more posts on the subject over the coming days.

In the meantime, here’s one tidbit. In a conversation with someone I met at Flipside, he asked me about firespinning—specifically, if I had noticed any physical benefits. I think my answer might make a good blog entry.

I’ve always been a klutz. I attribute this in part to being left-handed, partly to a growth spurt when I was 13 that left me a stranger in my own body. But I think that a big part of this klutziness was a form of learned helplessness: I had learned that I tend to break, or scratch, or knock over things, so I accepted that as normal, and never made an effort not to.

With firedancing, there’s an obvious need to be precise in your motions. There are also strong incentives to practice—practicing is enjoyable in its own right, and it’s easy to make rapid progress by practicing, especially as a beginner. Firedancing also forces one to be more aware of the spatial relationship between one’s body and its surroundings.

So a lesson that I learned at an intuitive level (and later at an intellectual level) was that I didn’t necessarily need to be a klutz. I was capable of using my body the way I wanted if I put a little care into it. I became more aware of how my body related to my surroundings, and more conscious of how I moved in general.

While I wouldn’t go so far as to claim that I’m graceful today, I’m more mindful and precise in my movements, and that has been a benefit.

Delayed reaction

Burning Flipside officially opens tomorrow. A few key people are out there already. I’ll be heading out with the hoi polloi. I’ve been busy getting everything ready for the theme camp I’m leading, Circle of Fire, showing up for burn-night planning meetings, making lists, lengthening them, and lengthening them again.

Gwen and I went to our first Flipside in 2003. While some people at the time said that participating in Flipside was a life-changing event for them, Gwen and I reflected that we didn’t feel that way—not because we’re jaded, but because we felt that however big a footprint Flipside left, we had done enough living that we could keep it in perspective as part of the continuum of our lives, not see it as a break in it.

I’m about to depart for my fifth Flipside (skipped 2004), and here I am. Going to Flipside meetings, obsessing over my theme camp for weeks in advance of the event. Oh, it’s changed me. It just took longer for me to realize it.

So now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to do some prep work for the bacon-avocado margaritas I’ll be serving at camp.

fucking hippies

That is all.

The Internet is a small world

I was reading Ben Hammersly’s blog, and he linked to an entry in Adam Greenfield’s blog. I followed that, and in the comments, saw a name I hadn’t run across since I was about seven years old Kazys Varnelis.

Kazy, as I knew him, grew up a few doors west of me, and was a year or two younger (still is, I imagine). “What are the odds of there being a completely unrelated Kazys Varnelis?” I asked myself. I dropped him a line, and sure enough, it’s my childhood neighbor. Funny to run across him so randomly, and good to see that he’s apparently up to some very interesting stuff.

Update

I’ve been busy lately.

After a long spell with very little work, October ended with all I could handle. Add to that preparations for the annual Halloween show at the Enchanted Forest, preparations to go to San Francisco for the ATA conference, and other stuff. Now I’ve got plenty of blog-fodder piled up and don’t quite know where to start.

So I’ll start by squeezing this update out.

Chicago trip

Gwen and I recently flew up to Chicago. The excuse for our visit was my mom’s 70th birthday, but of course there’s more to do in Chicago than attend birthday parties, so we made a five-day trip out of it.

After a way-too-early departure from Austin, we arrived in Chicago with all of Thursday ahead of us. Took the blue line down to the Damen stop, where my sister met us with her car and took us back to her new condo in Old Town. It’s a great place. It’s an older building that has been through (really, is still going through) a gut rehab. It’s also less than two blocks away from Nookie’s, to which we promptly proceeded as soon as we got our stuff situated. Coffee, omelettes, and toast while sitting out on Wells Street enjoying the feeling of being on vacation on a nice day. That’s a good feeling.

Afterwards, we did what I like to do best in Chicago, which is just wander around. We wandered up and down Armitage, Webster, taking in the chi-chi boutiques in that area. Picked up a housewarming present for my sister. Gwen had just embarked on a commercial letterpress project, and many of the shops where we stopped had letterpressed cards of some variety or another. We wound up doing quit a bit of research. That night, a fellow firedancer who I know through the Internet, Kathleen, hosted a small spin jam at her apartment. It wound up being more of a social hour than spin jam, but that was fine, because it was an interesting crowd. And it was nice just making that connection in person. Whenever I go somewhere new, I look forward to meeting the fire folk there–I feel we’re members of the same tribe.

Friday, we had the pleasure of getting together with an Austin friend, Heather, who just happened to be in Chicago on business at the same time. We did more wandering around, walking until our feet were sore. They tried on shoes; I watched. We stopped by Ethel’s Chocolate and indulged. Stopped in Paper Source, where Gwen and Heather both bought stuff. That night, Gwen, Heather, my sister, and myself had dinner at Pasta Palazzo. My sister had never been there, surprising because it’s a really good restaurant, and it’s not even a ten-minute walk from her place. The kitchen is right out in the open at the lunch counter, and it is fun to sit and watch your order being prepared. A bit unnerving, though, when you see the extraordinary quantities of half-and-half and/or butter that go into making your meal so tasty.

Saturday was the day of my mom’s party, but that was at night. In the morning, Gwen and I went wandering southward, initially hoping to find a bakery (and walking right past one in my sister’s neighborhood), but eventually getting to a farmer’s market on Division, where we did procure some baked goods and wandered back north, eventually getting to another farmer’s market right next to the Farm in the Zoo, where we saw cabbages the size of pumpkins. We made our way over to Nookie’s for some sustenance after all that walking, where my aunt Sandy and her husband Joe intercepted us. We hung out for a while and went back to my sister’s to get ready.

The party was in a large private room at a huge rambling restaurant near where my parents live. The party was intended as a surprise. My mom had an idea that something was up (she knew I’d be coming to Chicago “around her birthday”), but I don’t think she had any idea how many people would be there, several others who flew in from as far away as I did.

Gwen and I spent that night at my parents’ place, and got to see the very nice new porch they’d put on, the refreshed kitchen, etc. Not much headway reducing clutter, though. My mom’s big ongoing project has been turning large chunks of their property into prairies with native plants. She’s got three pretty big fields going, all with numerous plants. I don’t know from beans when it comes to this sort of thing, but it looked good and was obviously a lot of work.

The next morning, my other sister came down from her hideout in the 815 area code and we all went out for a too-big meal in Barrington (too-big meals were really a theme of this trip). After that, Gwen and I caught the Northwestern line down to Clybourn and walked the rest of the way back to my sister’s place, past the Finkl steelworks. Later in the day, Gwen and I reconnected with my parents at my cousin Joel’s condo; from there, we went on to the Garfield Park Conservatory, where there was a sculpture show (pictures).

That night, Gwen, my sister, and I went out to Bacino’s for stuffed pizza, something I try to get on every trip to Chicago. The sauce seemed a little underdone this time. A stuffed pizza should really have a solidified, somewhat paste-like sauce. This was still kind of runny. Bacino’s used to be the best place to go for stuffed pizza, but I’m not able to monitor developments in the Chicago pizza world as closely as I might like. Perhaps the mandate of heaven has passed to another joint. Maybe I’ll try Leona’s next time—they were always reliable.

And then came Monday, our last day. Our flight was late in the day, so we went to Bucktown and, well, walked around some more. We stopped at the Fluevog shop, where Gwen came very, very close to buying a pair of shoes. We stopped in a vintage shop, where one of the clerks instantly marked us as tourists—perhaps because we were out as a couple during normal working hours. Eventually, of course, the trip had to end. My mom, who happened to be in the city, had offered to drive us to the airport, but we convinced her to just drop us off at the El station, which was probably a faster way to get to the airport. Our flight home was uneventful and relatively unburdened by new purchases.

A big part of the reason I love walking around Chicago is because of the architecture. Typical residential architecture is built to a vastly higher standard there than here in Austin, and much of it is interesting to look at as well. It’s one of the differences in regional culture. When I first came to Austin and looked at some of the apartments where regular people lived, I thought “These are temporary buildings, right? Or student housing?” I guess I’ve reconciled myself to the flimsy construction here, because this visit was a forceful reminder of how much better construction is in Chicago. And there’s a hell of a lot of new, really posh construction going on as well. The Chicago I grew up with was a city in decline—the population was shrinking, the streets and parks were not well maintained, and there was not much new construction. All those trends have reversed, and indeed there are parts of the city that are unrecognizable. My sister’s neighborhood is seeing a rash of very plush townhouses going up—enough so that the neighborhood association is upset about them hurting the character of the neighborhood.

There were other little differences in regional culture I noticed. In Austin, you can pay for damn near anything with plastic. Many businesses in Chicago won’t accept plastic. In Austin, everyone has sunglasses on a sunny day. Chicago? Not so much.

Then there’s the big cultural difference: the walking. In Chicago, everyone walks. Everyone has to walk to get somewhere. Even if you drove, you may have parked far enough away that you’ll still wind up walking a distance that many Austinites would consider unwalkable. And because everybody in this big, diverse, dense city is out walking, you rub elbows the complete spectrum of humanity. Just being on the street in Chicago feels very different because of this, and this may help explain why I like walking around Chicago myself. In Austin, the only people you see walking are people who have no other option, or people out for a walk.

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